How to include animals in your emergency plan

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated 3 January 2017

Aussies are no strangers to natural disasters…

In recent years, bushfires have ravaged large parts of the country. The Queensland floods in 2011 and 2009 Victorian bushfires caused much untold suffering to humans and animals alike. Even before the 2015 summer season began, devastating bushfires were sweeping across Western Australia and South Australia. Ours
is a landscape of extremes, and with an increasingly unstable climate, experts warn that more wild
weather is yet to come.

Emergencies can occur quickly and without warning. While it’s
impossible to prevent such events, being well prepared can
mean the difference between life and death
— particularly for companion animals, who are wholly dependent on their carers for their

When faced with a crisis situation you’ll be glad you prepared your
emergency plan in advance. Here’s how to make one.

Don’t wait for an emergency to happen

When a disaster strikes, it’s important to act as quickly as
possible. Having an emergency plan so you know what needs to be done is
essential. Taking time to prepare for emergencies in advance will
improve the safety and well being of your family and companion animals.
It is also recommended that you practice your emergency evacuation plan
before it is needed

Designate an ’emergency guardian’. This is someone, preferably close
by, who can enact your evacuation plan if you’re not home. This person
could be a neighbour who is home during the day — a trusted person who
you can leave keys with.

Where to take your animals

Determine what options there are for making sure that your animals
are in a safe place during an emergency. Understandably you would want
them to stay with you, but this is not always possible. Emergency
shelters for example often do not accept animals for hygiene and safety
reasons. If considering moving animals to a safer place, do so early to
avoid unnecessary risk.

Temporary accommodation

If you have time to find safe temporary accommodation for animals,
first consider people that you know, such as family and friends. Other
options are: boarding facilities or an animal welfare shelter away from
the threatened area.

If you are able to find temporary accommodation for your animal,
make sure you bring medical and feeding information, food, medicine and
other supplies with them.


If you have to evacuate your house, always take your animals with
you. Do not leave animals unattended or in a motor vehicle during an

Here are a few things to keep in mind when evacuating with your

  • Bring them indoors well in advance of an emergency event.
    Consider securing them inside, so that they do not take flight or run
  • Use a secure animal carrier/cage, leash or harness to move them
    to safety
  • Ensure all vaccinations remain current
  • Ensure all animals can be easily identified with a microchip
    and/or secure tag detailing name, contact numbers and current address.
    Remember — during times of disaster, telephones may not be available
  • make sure to pack medical and feeding information, food, medicine
    and other supplies
  • make sure you know various routes to get out of the dangerous zone

If you must leave animals at home

If your only option is to leave your animals at home in an
emergency, take the following precautions:

  • confine them in a safe area inside with small windows
  • remove potential hazards from the space
  • ensure they have access to plenty of food and fresh water. For
    example fill up bathtubs, sinks and/or buckets.
  • do not leave them chained outside
  • never leave an animal outside without shelter, food and clean
    water and bedding
  • provide toilet litter and bedding for each animal
  • in case of flooding, leave your animals in the highest location
    in your home, or a room that has access to counters or high shelves
    where they can take shelter. Position a heavy chair or crate to allow
    access to a higher refuge such as tables, bench tops or shelves.
  • leave a visible note or sign outside on the door, detailing what
    companion animals are inside, where they are, how you can be contacted
    and details of your vet
  • inform your state authority and/or state RSPCA so that possible
    rescue can be arranged


A volunteer firefighter gives water to survivors of the 2015 South Australian bushfires Photo: Dylan Coker

Companion animal emergency kit

When evacuating with your companion animals, you’ll need to take
supplies to look after them. Make sure to have a companion animal
emergency kit ready and easy to access. Also make sure that everyone in
the family knows where it is. The kit should include the relevant items
below, or as much of it as you can take:

  • their medications for 2 weeks, medical and vaccination records
    and vet details
  • food, treats and water (eg. bottled) for 2 weeks. If you take
    canned food, make sure that they are pop-tops.
  • feeding dishes
  • a familiar blanket or bedding, toys and grooming equipment
  • a secure animal carrier, leash and/or harness to move animals to
  • newspaper, paper towels, disinfectant, rubbish bags and
    disposable litter trays for your animals’ sanitary needs
  • a covered bird cage (if you keep birds)
  • up-to-date identification tags
  • a current photograph for identification purposes (in case you are
    separated and need to make “Lost" posters)
  • important phone numbers, such as: your vet, companion animal
    information and advisory services, RSPCA and/or local animal welfare
    agency, police, fire and ambulance, neighbours

Be informed

You can check with your local council and other agencies on possible
hazards, local emergency plans and what arrangements are in place
regarding temporary animal shelters during times of major emergencies
or disasters.

During an emergency it is important to remain informed about the
latest developments. Essential information will be broadcast by radio
and television, so tune in if you can. State and other government
websites will also provide information. Remember to always follow the
instructions of local and state officials.

After an emergency

There are a few things to be aware of after an emergency:

  • Your animals’ behaviour can change after an emergency. They might
    not recognise their surroundings, as often familiar scents and
    landmarks may be altered. In the days following the event, leash your
    animals when they go outside and keep close contact, until they become
    re-oriented. Monitor their behaviour closely — animals can become
    defensive and aggressive after a stressful event.
  • Be aware of potentially dangerous animals that may have entered
    the area during the emergency.
  • Check that your yard is secure and safe.
  • If an animal is missing, contact your local RSPCA, pound and
    animal shelters to try to locate them. To assist in easily identifying
    you as the legal owner, it is recommended to keep a current photograph
    of your companion animal with you at all times.

Information for specific animal species

The information provided here can be applied to all companion
animals, but there are many animal species, like birds, fish, reptiles
and farmed animals, that require more specific care. If you are caring
for any such animal, we recommend contacting specialised agencies, such
as the RSPCA or your vet for further advice on your emergency plan.



Horses can become highly stressed in the aftermath of a fire and even the friendliest horse may be wary of humans, especially those they are not familiar with. As with many animals, microchipping can be helpful in reuniting you with your horse, however this does rely on the horse being able to be caught and/or handled. If you are unable to float your horse to safety during an emergency, an additional measure is to paint your phone number (and your name, if you can) on your horse using livestock grease crayons — as big as possible across the animal’s side so that you can be reached if your horse is spotted.

Our friends at Quest Equine Welfare have provided a helpful guide for how to manage horses in the immediate aftermath of a bushire. You can download this here.